Sometimes a track just spills out of you and other times it is an epic battle equaled to the fight on the mountains of Mordor. Through the years I have figured out some techniques to get me out of those ruts. Once and a while you just need a little creative nudge to finish that idea or come up with a new one.
One technique that has helped me a lot, I call the title question. The idea is you start with a title and start exploring questions and answers that it envokes. I know… seems cheesy. Well, it is but it works.
1. Start with the track title. Usually, when I start a track the title is the last thing on my mind. I usually don’t even have the name until I send it out for mastering. But when I am lost on ideas to get a track started, this technique is a lifesaver. One of the best ways to come up with an idea is to start with an action. Like running, fighting, breaking, and so on. Then add something else to give it context, and you have an evocative name.
2. Start to question the title. Now that you have a title, start asking yourself what it might mean. Make a list of questions you might ask to unlock the meaning of the title. Things like: When did this happen? Who was there? How does it make me feel? What will happen next? Try to get at least 3 questions, but 4-5 is better.
3. Answer the questions in the music. This is when it starts making sense. Take one of the questions and answer it in the verse. Try to either build lyrics or musical elements (if instrumental) to start answering that question. An example would be a question of “what caused this to happen?” could be answered by lyrics that bring in a backstory to why your crying on the floor. You know… classic love lost.
Then take another question for the chorus and use that section to answer it. This is an easy way to start building a story and context.
4. Different questions for different verses. The chorus is pretty much going to stay the same. The verse is what really drives the story. So for each new verse, ask a different question or give another answer to the original question. This will start to fill in the story and give it different reference points between the chorus and keep the listener engaged.
If you are working on instrumental music, think of the instruments as lyrics. How are they pushing the story of this track forward? You can play with the feel of each solo or instrumental part. Maybe the A (or verse part) is getting more and more frantic. Then maybe the B part (chorus) is a calming force. It can go back and forth with variations.
5. Building the bridge with a new idea If this is a classic verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge type of song, then by the time the bridge comes in things are getting a little old. The bridge is designed to give you a whole new perspective. Both musically as well as lyrically. I like to think of this as a new camera angle or character perspective. If the story has been told by one character, what if there was another character that could chime in? Or another idea is what if you change the timing of things and answer these same questions from a year in the past or future? Use the bridge as an opportunity to bring in a whole new idea.
This can also be an “Aha” moment. Maybe a vital piece of the story or context hasn’t been revealed until this moment.
The exploration of questions and answers can get the ideas flowing. It’s a great way to go a little abstract for a moment and let your mind freely wonder until something evolves. Here is an image of a typical Verse-Chorus type of track.
Trap Moster Example
As an example, let’s call the name of the track “Trap Monster“.
With this technique, you would start with the verse as an answer to the question of who is the Trap Monster. The chorus could then explain what the Trap Monster is going “TRAAAP Monster is burner-nating the countryside”. The verse would then answer another question of what is happening to everyone else in the scene. Then back to “TRAAAP Monster is burner-nating the countryside” and so on. It starts to build out this ridiculous idea.
Ok… for real… I totally want someone to make that into a track. I will add it to this post and give you mad props.
This technique has been a life saver for me when I have had big deadlines for some tracks or just needed a kickstart. If you have any techniques or ideas to share around songwriting, please join in the comment section below.
As the trap monster always says, party on.
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